In this edition of The End Of The line podcast, Ramsey Russell and Rocky Leflore get together for another great Life’s Short GetDucks episode. Ramsey recaps the last few days of hunting in Mississippi and then he begins to tell the story of hunting Russia. It is a interesting one and shows the difference in people, landscape, and cultures. The love of the chase and the camaraderie unites us all at the end of the day.
How to Capercaillie Hunt in Russia
Can You Duck Hunt on a Wet Day?
If you have moisture buildup on your concrete, it’s probably not a good day to go duck hunting.
Rocky Leflore: Welcome to The End of the Life podcast, I’m Rocky Leflore in the Duck South studios in Oxford, Mississippi. On the other end of line with me is the deer slayer – wait – duck slayer himself Double R too, Ramsey Russell. Hey, you put down the shotgun and picked up the rifle.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I did. I sure did, Rocky. We hunted the Arkansas Open for a few days. We went down hunting with Dale Borland, jumped over here to Mississippi, Friday after Thanksgiving. I got to admit we had – our team had a pretty decent opening – there were 6 of us in the blind, we all like to hunt together and we had a beat down. It was good. There weren’t no pretty ducks, a lot of black jacks and few gadwalls, few mallards. I was telling you earlier, I shot more mallard – I shot more deer one afternoon than I shot mallards the whole opening week. That was something else. And by the time second split came away, last Friday, I came over here to camp and decided, I’ll go hunt Friday morning. I stepped outside, it was drizzling, nearly 70 degrees. I walked back inside and watched the news and started packing for Alaska – and they had a pretty good weekend last weekend.
Rocky Leflore: Before you leave that, one thing that you said to me last Friday that I think that all people should know because it’s a rule that I followed for many years, I don’t know it’s so much of a rule, but it’s just a hunter’s intuition. If you have moisture buildup on your concrete, it’s probably not a good day to go duck hunting.
Duck Hunting, Travel, Conventions, Filming, and More…Whew!
It don’t matter what the weather’s doing east, west, north, south, hot, cold, just go, because you never know what’s going to happen.
Ramsey Russell: No. I’m going to tell you – I called it. Man, look, if I walk out in my garage, the concrete has condensation, I probably ain’t going. I might go hunting but I’m going to go kicking and draggin, and I ain’t going to feel good about it. I don’t think the ducks fly in that kind of weather. Last weekend could have been described as an exception to that rule because well, now look, in all honesty, it was easy for me not to go hunting because it was yucky, nasty, wet, warm weather and it was just a very easy excuse. The truth of the matter is I really needed it because right now, man, Rocky, I had like 5 web pages to build and I’ve been putting it off. Man, I’m at a point right now, I’m going to tell you between now and the next 2 or 3 months, I feel like stretch Armstrong, I’m so tight son. I mean, it’s a tight schedule right now and it’s like, when is this going to get done? Well, when I walked out Friday and it just didn’t feel right and I’m like, I’m not going. And that morning I sat right here watching the 5 o’clock news, I heard a few shots and went down mid-morning to go tidy up and get some stuff out of my ranger, and looked at the sign outboard and they’ve shot twos and threes. I’m like, yeah, I did the right thing, I’m going home and I’m going to knock this stuff out. Man, I got my 2019 convention catalog put to bed, I got my web pages built, my wife and I have got to ship for a convention the week of December 15th and we are 90% packed for it. It had to be because man, I’ll tell you what, tomorrow I’ve got some work to do, finish packing for the convention and then I’m gone until Christmas. When I get back after Christmas, guess what? I’m coming over here and we’re selling hunts man, but a lot times my cellphone rings, and I get emails, and that’s anywhere in the world, I’m at the office for that. But beyond that, I am coming over here Christmas. New Year, Jake Latandresse is coming down, I’ve got Blood Origins coming over later in the month, Sitka’s supposed to come down and film a piece. We got things to do and then right in the middle of January, I leave on like 7th of January and go out to Reno. On that Saturday we box up and crate everything. Sleep with the angels because we‘re so exhausted after standing on your feet for 4 hours in Reno and fly to Dallas so we can set up for a convention the very next week. I’ll get back to Mississippi with 5 or 6 days, 7, 8 days to go for the Mississippi Season and I better relax a little bit. Then, I’ll be able to relax. But until then, man it was so easy to shirk off going hunting and the truth of the matter is, we were talking about this not too long ago on the Duck South site, somebody said when’s a good time to go or something. My old buddy Josh Chris said it best, he says just go. It don’t matter what the weather’s doing east, west, north, south, hot, cold, just go, because you never know what’s going to happen. I said the same thing, the best time to go is just go. If you don’t kill but one duck, what if it’s banded? What if it’s something special? What if? Just go. Life’s Short, Get ducks. Oh no boy, I’ve been home doing responsible stuff, real adult stuff and man, some boys I hunt with over here, one of my team, they go out, they get the high card, they go shoot mallards and gadwalls, and a few wood ducks, and teal, just wow. We just went to a poker chip system and I told them, I said, you all have another weekend like that in 7° weather, we’re going to go back to their cards because they couldn’t draw nothing for cards. You hear me, they couldn’t draw nothing. Well they came over here and racked up with the new draw system, and they got the high card, and went shot a bunch of birds. Next day somebody they would hunt with drew and they went back and shot a freaking leucistic gadwall – beautiful bird. Well, that afternoon, in between those two hunts, they draw high, go to a deer stand and the Daddy shoots a 20 inch white tail. I’m going to tell you, I told him, I said, man, if I was you, I said, that’s a whole lot of luck to waste it on a bunch of ducks and deer. You should have gone and bought a Powerball ticket because you really would have hit something in. But they did and here I was at the office, getting all these text messages thinking, well dad’s going to have 70 something degree weekends to skip. I skipped the wrong one but it is what it is. But that is a rule, I have very little expectations. Whatever it is between the temperature and the humidity as such that my concrete condensates that just is a – that’s a thrill kill to me. It’s typically nothing that really moves in that kind of weather. But opening weekend – fog – I mean, ducks can’t see you got to be just, it’s a mess.
Rocky Leflore: Ramsey, I don’t think that people – and I’m going to go total reverse back to – I wasn’t going to stop you as you were going – but don’t think that people understand how much you put into this business as far as day to day activities, not just hunting.
Ramsey Russell: I don’t know man, hunting is –
Rocky Leflore: And you are a self-taught not only marketer but programmer, putting this stuff together.
Modern Technology: Fad or Fabulous?
God, you didn’t know what you had when you went out, and you took your grayscale settings, and you bracket shot, and you did all this kind of stuff, and did the best you could to compose a picture.
Ramsey Russell: I do all the writing and all the artwork. Yeah guys like Jake Latendresse will do the – I’ve hired guys like him. Now, I’d say if you look at my web page, because now I’ve got to convert a lot of the artwork on Get Ducks to some of Jake’s pictures. Somebody does a photographer’s pictures which just takes so much time. But so many of the photographs – because I did start taking pictures back in the day and I was that guy – I never will forget one time Rocky. I was up in the mountains camping with a bunch of kids from all over the country, it was a – what was the name of that program? Some kind of program where you’re going backpacking in the mountains for 23 days. My grandmother sent me on that thing and it really was a very life-changing event. But I never forget listening to these kids from California talk about this newfangled computer stuff. I mean it was a fad. Come on man, this was 1989. They’re talking about doing stuff on the computer. That’s a fad man. Get real. That’s what I said. Boy, was I wrong. As a photographer, man, I shot 64 Kodachrome. You didn’t know what you had. I’m talking for decades. I got a job one time working at an old photography store in Jackson and I processed film for people. I just got a little understanding of photography and got me a camera, started taking pictures, and I thought this digital stuff was a mess, man. I’m like, it really is. God, you didn’t know what you had when you went out, and you took your grayscale settings, and you bracket shot, and you did all this kind of stuff, and did the best you could to compose a picture. You really didn’t know what you had till you sent that 64 Kodachrome off and you got that slide film back weeks later.
Rocky Leflore: Hey, can I pick the story that we tell tonight?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Rocky Leflore: I think we got enough time to tell it. Please tell the Russian tale.
Ramsey Russell: I knew I shouldn’t have told you that story. I knew it was going to come back and haunt me.
Rocky Leflore: Best story ever.
Ramsey Russell: All right, I’m going to tell this story – and there’s so many stories like this – because I don’t know how much time we just burned talking about writing and different stuff like that.
Rocky Leflore: Let me prepare those that’s listening to this. You’re about to hear one of the greatest, unique story adventures to another country ever.
Explorations in Hunting: Russia
I wanted to be off the beaten path, I wanted to be Christopher Columbus, I wanted to explore new areas, and see new things and I wanted to scale this thing out worldwide.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody thinks they want to do what I do, and don’t get me wrong, everybody wants to duck hunt, I get that. But they really don’t understand really what goes on into this thing we do. For example, one time I’ve got this really good client that has become a really good friend. I mean, really good friend, like a brother type friend. Really good friend of mine and he’s really kind of part of our A-team. I would say we have a list of 30 or 40 clients, A-team kind of how I describe. I’m going to some absolutely far flung place have absolutely no idea what I’m getting into really. I can call them up and say, hey, I’m going to this place, there could be these species, I can’t answer 90% of the questions you can normally answer because it’s purely exploratory and that’s the word, that’s what these guys are into. They’re into the exploratory part. For example, my friend from Montana has been to Argentina a lot of times, he’s been to Mexico a lot of times, he’s done a lot of stuff with us, he’s an accomplished hunter in his own right. And one day he called me up, man had a great time down here – but he said, you know, I’m ready do some real Ramsey shit. I said, what do you mean? He said, well man, explore. I want to do this uncharted, just unknown, I just want to roll and just do that real stuff. I said, everybody wants to do Ramsey stuff. Everybody wants to do that until it’s time to do real Ramsey stuff. Oh yeah, I get that. So, what I had told you Rocky was a story that’s just to me a kind of a funny example of real Ramsey stuff, stuff you don’t see typed on the travel brochure, but the kind of stuff you just – you look back at sometimes. So years ago – and you’ve got to understand now we were a young company, we were virtually nobody, I’ve told that story before. The economy was bad, we pushed in the chips, we bet the house, it worked, the economy came back, boom. We were in position, we were somewhere we could climb, but still at this time we were virtually nobody. We were selling Argentina. We were selling from Mexico, we were selling some Canada. US hunt list didn’t exist at the time and I’ve got places I want to go and do. I knew that the status quo Argentina, and Mexico, and Europe, that just wasn’t my exact calling. I wanted to be off the beaten path, I wanted to be Christopher Columbus, I wanted to explore new areas, and see new things and I wanted to scale this thing out worldwide. I wanted to go to so many new and unique places nobody’s ever thought about going. That was my calling. This was how I was going to do it. And so I really had a pretty hectic schedule back then, especially financially. I was going to go here for a little bit, I was going to go there for a little bit. One day, the phone rings, it’s a real thick Russian accent and he invites me to come to Russia, and he started describing it. We go back and forth, we swap emails a few times and I’m like, yeah I’m interested. He says good, you can come right now and I’m like, oh no I can’t come then. I mean, that’s like 3 weeks from now, I can’t do that. I’d like to go to Russia, like a lot of countries, some countries just need a passport, for some countries you need a visa, and going to Russia is very involved. You have to physically send your passport off, and send it to consulate’s office, and all kinds of crazy stuff. It’s a time consuming and involved process of getting visas in some of these countries. But I wanted to go, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to go. We had just studied the accounting and did everything. If everything fell into place just right, the visa help company did everything just right, everything fell into place, it would work. Well, kind of sort of, it did. I’ll tell you – long story short, I missed the first flight that I was scheduled to go, we had to reschedule the flight and I ended up a day late. But it’s like literally at 8 o’clock one morning came a knock on the door. It was FedEx, they handed me my passport. I thanked them, reached down by the door and picked up my suitcase, followed him out the front door down the driveway, got in my car where my wife was waiting, and drove to the airport, kissed her on the cheek, and I was gone for two weeks to Russia. And it was an amazing adventure. It was everything I wanted it to be. There were ducks, Tufted ducks, Eurasian wigeons of course, Mallards, and Golden eyes, and a lot of cool stuff. We flew into St. Petersburg, I was late. The plan was for me to join the team at Malta. What is Malta? Well, Malta is a little island, 24 x 7 miles, 7 miles across 24 miles long, it’s in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean. I’m going to join these Maltan hunters and we’re going to go. The great thing about joining them, my outfitter explained, was I’d get to see a lot more country and a lot more camps, and experience a lot more opportunities. If I was going to come this far to begin organizing his hunt that would be better, wouldn’t it? Sure, so I spent two weeks over in Russia and I fell in with these Maltans. They were real hunters and they spoke good English, speak all kind of languages. Let me give you a geography lesson because it’s a very interesting thing, this Malta deal. Who would have dreamed that in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean exists this little island. It’s been owned and conquered by everybody surrounding them, from Greece to Rome to Italy, all these countries – they speak like a Mellado language. The oldest dwelling – the oldest human dwelling on Earth is right there on Malta. It was a major stopover port, back historically in those days, and even though the European unit of which they’re a part of inhibits bird collecting, those guys are zealous bird collectors. That is the national thing, bird collecting. You catch a lot of birds that migrate and see this little island out in the middle of nowhere as they migrate across the Mediterranean Ocean and they don’t just collect waterfowl, they collect birds. One of the men I met had over 800 species in his collection. Both of them were in some form of construction as their main jobs but went and did little hobby jobs in people’s basements, building a bird-collecting studio. We became good friends. They were very interesting people. Rocky, we would see a Tweety bird, a sparrow looking bird, some bird, any bird, and every one of those Maltans knew the common name and the scientific name at a glance. Shorebird, boom, they knew it. Raptors, boom, they knew it. Sparrow, boom, they knew. They were such excellent people. Like one day we’ve been duck hunting, they’ve been somewhere off, I could hear them shoot something. Me and another guy been over here shooting and I had waded off into a creek. No trimmed, you know, ice rimmed creek, shot some mallards that day, some other ducks, shot a smew which was one of the species I was after. I was soaking, my hip boots had leaked, it was cold, I was tired, it started to grow dark. I walked back to the truck and was ready to go, and they said, oh no we’re going to go woodcock hunting. Woodcock what? Yeah, we’re going to go woodcock hunting. And I’m like, are there any woodcock around? He goes, oh this is perfect woodcock habitat. And I asked the Russian guy are there any woodcock around here? He just shrugged. He didn’t know. So, what makes you think it’s good woodcock hunting? He goes, well this habitat over here, and this over here is great. So, what we’re going to do is line up down this road, it’s dark and the woodcock will fly over. Well, the truck wasn’t going so I might as well go sit on the road cold, and sure enough, man, right there in twilight, here comes the woodcock flying through. I shot two, two big European woodcock – they’re twice the size of the North American woodcock.
Rocky Leflore: And good eating.
Ramsey Russell: And good eating. It was unbelievable that these guys knew this. One day for example, I did not go out in the rain and hunt because they were going to, they all had bird callers, electronic bird callers, and they were going to shoot shore birds like curlew and plovers, and them little long bill do-hickey birds coming off the river. We’ve been transported to the field and like this little mini truck of sorts, not a Chevrolet truck but these little mini Russian trucks, it had a camper on back and was little bitty, I mean it’s like riding a buckboard. I mean your head you hit a bump, sometimes you jump a foot off the bench. So I sat in there because they had this little bitty stove in there about the size of a coffee can. But you put the wood in there and loaded up, man, it would warm that thing up. I sat there and sipped my coffee and made myself a thermos of coffee, and I didn’t see any point going out and shooting birds that I didn’t know what they were and I know I couldn’t import, do anything with, it’s just not my cup of tea. I wiped the humidity off the wind and watched them shoot. It was amazing because it’s like you see, I never forget seeing a curlew come off the river and it locked its wings and it never flapped, it just glided for about a half mile right into where that guy was calling, and boom, he shot one time, it fell. He was very proud of taking him out, took him back to Malta to get mounted. Somebody shot a golden plover that was banded in Belgium, that was kind of cool. That golden plover looks like a little – just think of a little piping plover, what’s the little bird that runs around in Mississippi? A teal deer. Think a little teal deer size bird, it looked like somebody had dropped melted gold onto it. It was unbelievably beautiful but that was kind of their thing. So, for the first week we hunt there, well that particular afternoon, I’ve been with this guy, this Russian guy that for three days had not uttered a word of English. When we sank some mallards off in that frozen creek that day, man, we don’t know how we were going to get them. He showed up, stripped down butt naked, dove off into the creek, scooped him up, threw him across on the other side of the bank, climbed out of the ice, jumped up and down and rubbed himself, threw him back over to our side of the creek, jumped in the water and came up and I was like, man this guy’s Superman. I mean, dove into water with ice flowing down this creek, and did this for us, what a great guy. And so as we were just sitting there, he was there warming up, the Maltans were out shooting the do-hickey birds. And I was just looking at my phone, pictures on my phone, and this is a real life lesson for me because I realized we didn’t speak the same language. I said it in another podcast: music. Everybody knows Metallica, and Iron Maiden, and ACDC, and Guns and Roses. And pictures. Look, they may not understand the word for wife and kids, or home, but it’s universal. They see the picture, they get it. So, I started showing pictures and about midway through this photo stream he goes, “Your wife?” I go, “You speak English?” And he says, “Just a very little,” well that was it, he broke the ice but those Maltans came in from hunting, we all piled up in the van and we talked a little bit. I said, that guy speaks some English, like, oh well, and so we drove a little while and about this time – you got to understand, this is rural remote Russia. Poor Russia, and all the houses are built out of just plain nailed unpainted, unstained on anything. Wood like Cypress, like old cabins, and old cinder block buildings, no road improvement, nothing like that, just old remote Russia, simple people. And we stopped and I heard some Russian and I kind of looked out the window and there was a huge black Mercedes sedan, and this guy steps out. Man, he’s wearing like his three piece suit overcoat. Obviously very expensive, very prominent person. They start talking, the back door to the van opens up, to me looking at this guy who looks like a mobster. We started jumping out and the guide, Michel was his name, he starts motioning the Maltans to climb into this Mercedes. They do and then it’s my turn. I’m last in line and I started around the truck, he goes, he put his hand, he says do you want to go to camp or do you want to go the river? And I said, well I’ve seen camp but I haven’t seen the river so this guy invited me to go, I’ll go with him. So, off goes the Mercedes, I get the front seat of this truck, we drive to his old apartment building and it’s just cinder block, raw cinder block, the balconies off these apartments have clothes lines, and there’s just old lady bloomers, and long johns, and work shirts, and fish drying, and just all these different things. I’m in Russia, man, this is like – just imagine old Communist Russia, and this is it. This old door creaks into a stairwell, we’re going to this dank stairwell, it’s a lot of moisture, you can kind of hear your feet smashing waters. You’re going and we go up these steel stairs and he takes out a key, he opened the apartment door. Their door jams have steel facing all the way around it, I didn’t realize that. So, I stumb my toe on two inches of steel stepping into an apartment. I walk in and it’s nice, and warm, and inviting, and two young ladies get off the couch. I learned later that the reason he speaks English is his wife works at an English translation school. She’s got some college, old college friends in and he brought me to his apartment because now there’s 3 people that speak English, so he and I can really talk. So we sit down, man, they’re breaking food out of the refrigerator. His grandmother’s jam and these pickles somebody made and all this kind of fish. Here’s a very Russian dish you should try but we sat around for two hours just eating and talking. Man, the translator girls, they’re just eating it up because they got somebody to – they can teach them words and talk to them. We have a great time and then his friend comes over with his old Russian jeep, and we get in, and say goodbye to the girls, and we go off up this hill. We go to this place that has a raging river of aquamarine colored clear type water just roaring down this gorge and it’s a dam. We park and like where this dam had a bridge over it, and upstream of the bridge is like 10 acres of log jam. They’re like, be very careful, it could break with all this weight coming against it. What am I going to do if it does? And so well, we go across it, we launch the boat, we start running up the river. Off this river you’ll pull off and there’s like these little quiet spots surrounded by woods and man, when we come off, cut the motor, then we just coast up in, or you’re holding your breath quietly just waiting on a duck to jump up. Well there were no ducks, it was just too early, it was just too cold. The birds were still south of us. We’re like literally 50 km from the Arctic Circle. And so there’s no ducks, so we stop on this island and they start cutting open little knapsack of food, coffee and hot tea, and make a fire, and hot water to make them hot tea. And they’ve got this bread they eat with this thing called Salo. Salo is kind of like smoked pork fat, sounds terrible, it’s delicious.
Rocky Leflore: Sounds awful.
Adventures in Russian Eider & Capercaillie Hunting
“Yeah, I just saw real Russia.”
Ramsey Russell: I got it, sounds awful but it’s delicious. I’ll eat a pound of it and it’s just – we eat this different cut meats and cheeses and breads and just talk what little we can. The universal language among hunters – we can’t perfectly communicate with the community. The day got away from us, and man, I’m taking pictures and I’m asking questions. When you go somewhere – especially to another country – I had this talk, I met a two star General not too long ago down in Louisiana. We were talking, and I said, one thing I’ve noticed all my world travels is Russians, and Mexicans, and Argentines, and Romanians, and Swedes, and all these different nationalities, they have got such profound national pride. It’s like, you hear it on the news on Good Morning America and CNN and all, you think most American – I’m very proud of being American, I see what advantage we have in life – but it seems to me that of all the countries in the world, the country that should be the proudest generally is more apologetic about its standing in the world. Not Russians, man, they’re very proud people in general, and what I’ve seen is I travel with a camera, even if it’s just my phone now. You take pictures and you ask questions about their wives, and their lives, and their families, and their culture, and their country. This wall comes down, they open it up and they bring you inside, they introduce you to their families and they say, I’m going to take you to the river and I’m going to show you Russia. And so when we come down off the river, we hook the boat back up, we go across the rickety bridge and hope it doesn’t break, and we stopped. There’s just a big brick building. I say big, 60 x 50 brick building, and inside it he talks Russian to the security guard at the gate. We walk in and just right there in the middle of this building is this massive turbine because it was a hydroelectric dam and that turbine was collecting power. He told me at one time this turbine was generating all the power of Northern Karelia, the province we were in. He said, “Now let me show you this.” And we walked out and up on the outside of the brick were these holes and pock marks, and he says that’s artillery and bullet holes. Because during the Bolshevik Revolution this was a very big battle site because he who owns the power, owns the people. When you live somewhere where it gets to -40, you’re going to kiss the ring or whoever holds the power and keeps the heat on. So a big battle site. I don’t remember what we did after that. We walked around, we looked, we just explored this country. I never pulled the trigger on my gun. After the duck hunt I don’t think I even loaded it. That night it got dark, we finally made it back to camp and as we came in, it’s probably about 1:00 AM. It had been dark a couple of hours and as we walk in, the host, he hugged me, he pulls that guy to side and start scolding him. I sit at the table with the Maltans and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, where have you been? You’ve gone for 12 hours, where have you been?” And I took my drink, I said, “What you all do today?” He said, “Oh, we hunted, we didn’t shoot anything, we tried to shoot a Capercaillie or do something.” And I said, “Yeah, I just saw real Russia.” Rocky, at this part of the story I’d say, I thought I had seen real Russia, but as you know, the story continues. So, the next morning we got up and we packed and we went to another camp and we went way up north and we were right on the banks of the White Sea and we were literally – I have actually been there. One of the stores we went to one day after a Capercaillie hunt, we stopped at this little store and I realized we passed a sign that said it was the Arctic Circle. I mean we were literally 20 km, roughly 12 miles, from the Arctic Circle now in early May. When I first committed to doing this trip, they had asked me if I wanted to shoot Capercaillie. I said, yeah, what is it? I didn’t know. I’d never heard of a Capercaillie. I want to shoot ducks and we shot ducks. This was the trip. I mean, right by the time I think I’ve seen it, done it all in the world of duck hunting, I go Eider hunting on the White Sea in Russia. There’s no decoys, there’s a Russian that smiles. He’s very proud that he’s got a very fast boat. It don’t look like much of a boat. It’s like just a single hull aluminum, a 1950 Ski boat or something out forward, and it was a scout, it’ll go. And I had my camera out to take pictures. No, that didn’t work, man. We’re hitting those waves across that sea just full force and I finally had to put my camera up just to hang on for dear life. When I realized how they hunted Eiders, I’m in the back seat of the boat. I’m holding on with my left hand to the side of the boat, I’ve got my left foot on that gun wall, and right foot on this gun wall. I’m hoping that by anchoring myself, my left hand and my feet, that when we hit one of them waves, I don’t go flying out the back of the boat, never to be seen again. And I’m holding my shotgun with my right hand on my shoulder so I’m shooting with one hand. It’s like we’re hitting a wave and we’re airborne, and we passed by the Eider who is flying about as fast as we are. I missed the first 3 shots, 4th shot I hit one. And I never will forget, the Eider dove under and I could see him. He’s right there swimming, and I reached down, the Russian reached over, pulled my hand out. He says something in Russian like, you know, you fool, that’s stupid, what are you doing? I’m like, here’s right there. The water is so clear, it looked like he was just feet under the water. Man, he was 10ft under the water, the water was so clear. And so he turned the nose of the boat, found that Eider popped up. He knew just what that Eider was going to do, that Eider was going to swim with that undercurrent. He let the boat just drift, when Eider popped up, boom, he’s right there. Boom I shot it. Cranked up the boat, he patted me on the back, cranked up the boat, and here we go again to hunt another Eider. That’s how we Eider hunted. Well, getting back to the Capercaillie story. Capercaillie is the world’s largest grouse and they make a fan display like a strut on a turkey. They’re about 8 pounds, they’re very beautiful birds. A lot of you all that follow us on social media probably saw this Russian trip we did this year and it’s a very incredible hunt. People ask how you hunt them and if you see a true European, Capercaillie gun it’s usually a very nice. Over and under with a Monte Carlo cheek piece and one barrel, it’s going to be chambers for like 223 or something like that. And the other barrel is going to be a 12 gauge or 20 gauge and they hunt the birds. There’s a pretty long hunting season and a lot of the winter season, a lot of times, they hunt these birds, they rifle them. Because it’d be like going out in the fall to shoot a turkey. Can’t sneak on them, except they’re so close, you can’t call them in because they’re not in their calling season. So, they rifle them out of trees or whatever like that. Well in the calling season, during their breeding season, grouse have the habit of being on a lek, okay? A breeding lek. And it’s like, their little breeding area and all the males in this territory will gather on this lek and compete for dominance. They’ll sing, calling the females, like everybody knows the ruffed grouse up north, you hear them drumming. Drumming on the tree log or drumming or wings, it sounds like an Indian beating the drum. That’s what calls all the hens in. These Capercaillie, they have a two part song, the first part sounds like somebody clicking their tongues, click-click, and then it sounds like a gurgle. So, they’re up in a trees in the spring and they begin their song right when the sun starts to come up. Now look guys, we’re right up by the Arctic Circle. When I say sunrise, it takes 4 hours of the time your imagination tells you it might be getting lighter until the sun pops up. It takes 3 or 4 hours. Time moves very slowly, it’s only daylight a little bit of time, 6 hours, 5 hours. But it takes a long time for that sun to rise and that’s when they’re active, during sunrise. Once the sun is up, they shut up, they get down, they fade, they do whatever grouse do when they’re not calling to females. But the interesting thing about this is they get up in the street and after that 4th click, after that note, a gland in their ear swells and they become deaf. So, he’s up in the trees, got his eyes closed, a gland in his ear swells, you’ve got just enough time because there is no walking quietly in Capercaillie woods. Sticks and moss, and leaves and pine needles, and snow and water and mud, and there’s no moving like smoke through Capercaillie woods. But in that instant you can take two steps because you’re in the snow crunch. At the end of them two steps, you don’t blink, you don’t move. When you take that second step you put your foot down good, don’t worry about cracking that limb underneath it. You’ve got to be planted because when he opens his eyes, he’s looking for hens, and if he sees you he’s gone. He ain’t going to see you just sitting there being still looking at the ground. If you’re lucky – I’ve done this enough times now – if you’re lucky he’s really sang in, click-click, gurgle-gurgle, crunch-crunch you can advance on it. But sometimes you’re sitting there standing for 20 minutes just waiting on them to do something. It’s like chess, you wait on him to make a move. So, first time I go out with Rogette, oh my gosh, what a story. Lexi says, “You go out with him, we go Capercaillie hunting, okay.” So, Rogette comes by 10:30, it gets dark at 11:30. We walked two miles, I’m pacing like an old forester. 13 paces of chain, so many paces a mile, I figured, I’m two miles down a bear trail in the middle of a black forest environment. It gets pitch black dark, my feet go completely numb. I’m cold, it’s so cold I think I can hear my breath freezing because so quiet in those woods when you’re not moving. All of a sudden Rogette jumps, he hears something, he punches me, I don’t hear nothing. I think I might hear something. What are two of us hunters? So we kind of start moving towards the direction of all these songs. I was calling going on. The man speaks no English. Thumbs up, thumbs down, that’s it. He indicates to me, sit here. He takes another hunter, off they go that way, and I’m sitting here in this snow everywhere. A little ice been breaking. All of a sudden I see these birds walking around and I’m like, well there’s a Capercaillie, obviously that’s a grouse. And I could tell the roosters because they got their fans up. I’m like, oh, this ain’t nothing. All this lecture and all this, how to hunt, I’m sitting here and I saw 30 Capercaillie standing there. One of them flies up in the tree. I’m saying, this is so easy. Boom, I shoot it flies off. Well, when I walk out to the tree, I’m thinking grouse like a spruce grouse, or blue grouse, or no. Again, these things are big as a turkey, big as a hen turkey. I was thinking grouse, so it was 60 yards, I missed him. That’s kind of the end to that hunt. We’re walking out as we were walked in, I noticed we had gone through these two swamp areas. As we’re walking out, we’re following Rogette and he’s using a GPS to market his way out the trail. We’re not taking the bear trail, this time we’re just kind of rawhiding it through the country. All of a sudden I noticed we come up on this third swampy area, two coming through now, we’re on a third. He’s following the GPS, I found it kind of odd and I took a step and sunk off about waist deep in snow. I heard some commotion and now the musk Ag comes to geese and two gray lag geese. And he says something in Russian that I took to mean shoot them, which is exactly what he said. So I can’t do anything but throw two shells in my gun when the geese fly over, tree top high, short tree. Boom, boom, shoot them. Then I’m stuck carrying them. Well, he’s following GPS, big deal. As we get across that musk Ag, he stops and I see him looking at it, and punching buttons and scratching his head. The universal symbol for what the heck? I walk over and look over his shoulder and I realized he had toggled the GPS and just was looking at the cursor on the GPS, not on his own beacon. So, I reached over and push the button and it put us on the beacon and he said something that I’ve just interpret as F-bomb, returned his GPS, put it in his pocket, took a right, and started walking towards the sound of the river we’ve heard all morning. He’s lost and we’re in the middle of who knows where in Russia. We get to this big, massive river like the one I’ve seen is the other camp, the swans floating down there’s ice. Freaking we shot a pair of golden eyes that flew out of nowhere. He picks out his cellphone and call somebody. I pull out my cell phone and look I’ve got 5 bars. I called my wife, she’s asleep but I called her. Around the curve comes a little one man rubber boat with a guy with oars. We walked down to him and they talk in Russian and he indicates for the guy I’m with to get in the boat and he goes across the river. When the boat comes back, well, probably my turn. So, I wait. He gets the boat they go across the river. The boat comes back. I figured, well now it’s my turn. I’m going to go across the river. Nope, I’m getting in the boat, almost turn it over, and we go back the way the man came. We paddle and there’s all this brush around this river and I could smell smoke. We get right up the edge of the bank and about this time these two hands come out of the bushes and grab the boat, pulled up in the bush, and pulled it up on the bank. Help me out of the boat. I get up and walk up this hill, there’s a campfire going, there’s hot water kettles going, there’s 3 or 4 Russians, fish hanging in the trees, and 3 or 4 Russians had cut these pine boughs, made little pallets. We’re just sitting there relaxing and taking a nap, listening to Russian opera. Typical American, I figured, well, these guys will be right here shortly, they’ll be here quickly. My feet are wet from the time I fell in and I took my boots off, going to get them dry, they offer me some cheese, they offer me some salo, they offer me some hot tea, I’m drinking. Heck man, about an hour and a half, two hours later, by the time Rogette and another guy got there. Man, I was just like a Russian. I was just sitting there half sleeping by the fire listening to Russian ballet. So they eat a little bit, we get ready. I figured with all this camp they’ve got here and all this, we can’t be too far to the car. We’re 5 miles from the car. Man did we get lost. We finally get to the car, we finally get home, neither of us have a Capercaillie. Next morning we’re going to go back out. So we go back out Capercaillie hunting and I found a dry spot up under the – and I really like this, you get out there and we build a little fire. Sometimes we eat cheese and bread, just listen, and then that morning we heard the hens clucking so we knew they were getting ready to get going. We heard the go-ins, Rogette grabbed me up, we’re going to make a few stocks and on that morning was very frustrating because I got right under this bird. Now, understand it’s getting faintly light so the sky is lit, but inside the dark wood is very black, everything is black, everything’s backlit. I’m right under this Capercaillie and I can’t see him. He’s up in a tree, I can’t see him, I can’t make him out. So he flies and we go stalk another one. Same deal. I can’t see the bird. I mean, he’s up there somewhere, but I can’t see it. We come back without birds after two fruitless nights in the woods. Lexi, the head guide, he says, “We’re going to the White Sea again, you should come with us.” I said, “No I’m going Capercaillie hunting.” Now, understand Rocky, two days in Russia with the light and dark patterns, you just kind of lose your sense of time. It gets to be wherever 2 or 3 days into Capercaillie woods, what time is it? 10 o’clock. AM or PM? You think about. I don’t know. You don’t know, it don’t matter because you’re on a Capercaillie hunt. You’re getting up and eating, and going back to bed, and getting up and eating, and going back to bed, and getting up and eating, going Capercaillie hunting. It’s just like a hibernation but you are Capercaillie hunting. And you just lose sense of time. After two fruitless nights, I had not slept a wink. My party clock was messed up, I had not slept in days and Lexi says, “Hey, we’re going to the White Sea, me and the Maltans are going to shoot some other birds.” I said, “No I’m going back to the Capercaillie woods. In fact Lexi, I’m going the Capercaillie woods and I’m not coming out without a Capercaillie.” We got in there, one of the Maltans and Steve went that morning. And I swear, birds sang, he goes with his guide and 10 minutes later he comes back with a Capercaillie, and I’m like, golly. Steve and his friend Patrick and I became very good friends on this trip and we were sitting there waiting on another Capercaillie seeing it’s getting lighter and lighter. Finally one sang. I had a new guy that day, he was a big guy, I cannot remember his name. Big guy, looked like a big Russian spy. I mean, I guarantee you his belt was as long as he was tall. He was just that guy with old Russian military camo. We took off and we got right up on the bird and he flew, and this guy instead of taking 2 steps, taking 4 steps instead of taking that little two step shuffle, he’s taking a 4 step Ninja shuffle and I’m right behind, and I’m huffing and puffing. We’re closing distance and he picks around this tree. He looks back at me and he’s smiling, and I ease forward around that tree. It’s really too late for the birds to be singing but this bird is really singing. And I can hear him good. And old shooters like us, we can’t really hear these birds until we’re very close to them and I could hear them very good. When I peek around the tree, they are being hidden up in the tree and behind limbs and being backlit. He’s on the top of about a 9ft Christmas tree. A single beam of light is just lighting him up like the angel on top. I looked back at him and I’m smiling now too. because I know I got this bird. I shoot, boom, I got him. When I get back to where Steve was, Steve breaks out a flask, we have a few drinks, we talk, we take pictures, make a long hike back, get home, we do vodka shots. That’s one thing I learned about Russia is vodka. They don’t mix vodka cocktails. I remember one time, getting a big cocktail size cup and asking them for a vodka. I was thinking like a screwdriver or something else. She poured it up with vodka. They just take shots over there. Chase it with pickles. Chase it with salo. Chase it with a bite of fish. Chase it with a bite of fruit chased with another shot of vodka because you don’t know what time it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s breakfast, or lunch, or dinner, it’s just a meal and so vodka shots. We got back and whatever meal that was, we took vodka shots and then I went to sleep for 24 hours. I don’t think I moved. I had my bird, I had my trophy, and I died. The following year, Steve and Patrick from Malta had contacted me and they had told me in camp that they wanted to shoot a king eider. Even more than a king eider, they wanted to shoot a wood duck. I told them, well my company sells king eider hunts, that’s no problem. They said that of all the bird collections in Malta – there were king eiders but there were no king eider that the owner has shot himself – and they would like to be the first. Out of all the bird collections in Malta, there were absolutely no wood ducks and they would like to be the first too. Well if you all were to come to king eider hunt that takes place in Alaska, there’s no wood ducks there but we’re all buddies and let me tell you when we get the end of the story, it’s kind of like a fox hole story with you guys, you get what I’m saying. I said I’ll take you wood duck hunting. So sure enough, the next year or two they went on a king eider hunt.
Rocky Leflore: You’re going to have to find a stopping point in just a second because we’re just about out.
Ramsey Russell: Well, we’re going to get to the end of this great story but listen to this. Two years later, the Maltans come to Mississippi and they go king eider hunting and I’ll tell the rest of the story on the next episode.
Rocky Leflore: Let me just tell you, you’re not getting away from here without telling that part of the story.
Ramsey Russell: You want me to tell the final part tonight?
Rocky Leflore: No.
Ramsey Russell: Russia was an amazing adventure!
Rocky Leflore: Greatest 20 minutes of your life listening to this, of what happens in Russia. You live this comfortable lifestyle in the United States and you just go become a part of their culture and the things that they do. No, I think it is awesome, it is funny, it’s eye-opening, it’s just great.
Ramsey Russell: Become Russian.
Rocky Leflore: Well, that’s where we’re going to stop it. Where the Maltans are coming to Alaska to kill the king eider and Mississippi to kill the wood duck. We’ll pick it back up next week there.
Ramsey Russell: All right.
Rocky Leflore: Ramsey, I enjoyed it, man. Great night. Lots of good stuff. I can’t wait to get to this Part 2. I’m telling you guys, that’s good, it is really good stuff. Ramsey, I know you are headed out to Alaska for a few days. So please be careful. We will talk to you again next week.
Ramsey Russell: All right. See you then.
Rocky Leflore: All right. I want to thank all of you that listened to this edition of The End of The Line podcast powered by Ducksouth.com.